The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

November 29, 2013

History’s lost moments

By David Christy, News Editor
Enid News and Eagle

“All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time ... to die.” ~ Soliloquy from “Blade Runner”

I was watching one of the closing scenes from the futuristic film “Blade Runner” this past week — a brief, poignant end to a violent confrontation between characters played by Rutger Hauer and Harrison Ford. The words jumped out at me as I listened for the umpteenth time to that scene, only finally hearing what they said.

Soliloquy from "Blade Runner"

History is crammed with moments remembered in time. We remember dates, places, seasons, faces and personalities from history, sorting through all the chaff-laden wheat to glean the true essence of irony or truth, or any of the other emotion or outcome it brings to mind.

Yet, as much as history tells us, as much as we learn or fail to learn from its pages, how much of history has been lost?

Think about that for a moment. Have you ever had a memory from your past, a point in your life where you wished you had written something down, taken a photo, drawn a picture, or simply failed to ask a now-dead relative about something that occurred in their past, that you now wished you could retain for family posterity?

On the heels of our recent 50-year observance of the assassination death of President John F. Kennedy, I began to think about all that was lost when he was gunned down in Dallas. Or when President Abraham Lincoln was shot in the back of the head those 148 years ago in a Washington theatre balcony box.

We will never know all the things these two famous Americans took to their graves. We will never know exactly what JFK thought when he was staring down Nikita Khrushchev during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Oh, we have first-hand observations from aides and relatives and people involved in that monumental 14-day period in October 1962, when this nation and the world teetered on the brink of nuclear war and possible annihilation.

We will never completely know what Lincoln thought about the American Civil War, how he perceived its tens of thousands of day-to-day twists and turns, in another signal time when the nation easily could have been dashed onto the rocks of history, and swept away into so many broken pieces.

How would Lincoln have handled Reconstruction, a  bitter time when the wounds from countless battlefields still were fresh on Americans’ minds, when emotions were so raw they would not heal for more than a hundred years?

We think we know. Lesser men than Lincoln and Kennedy would provide us their take on those critical moments in our history. But those are simple observations. I can’t get into the minds of those two presidents any more than you can get into my mind, and I into yours.

It’s an impossibility.

And so goes history. We are left to view its outcomes from a million perspectives, and maybe no two perspectives exactly the same.

We will never get into the penultimate evil mind of Adolph Hitler, a suicide bullet to his right temple putting to rest his horrible legacy to world history, and at the same time depriving the people left living from the Second World War to speculate and ruminate over the bitter question — why?

And the reason we would like to know all these lost things, all these first-person observations? So mistakes made will not be made again.

Remember the old admonition:  “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

It was left to us by the gifted philosopher George Santayana, and those words hold truth for everyone that has come before us, and for our present and future world.

Had President Kennedy a voice today we somehow could tap, he would tell us of all the mistakes made in those dark days in 1962, when fingers were on the triggers of nuclear Armageddon. He would tell us the historical nuances he faced and how he came to the decisions he made.

Had John Wilkes Booth not deprived the nation of President Lincoln, he could have told us of all the hundreds of missteps and failings he and the nation made as it hurtled toward disunion and the Civil War, which we mark today in the midst of a sesquicentennial observance.

For me, I have a selfish wish — to simply go back and talk with all my long-dead relatives, and regain all the information they took to their graves.

Every day is history — every moment, every outcome.

Sadly, far more history has been lost than has been retained.

History lost is despairing, for it can never be regained.

“All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time ... to die.”

Christy is news editor at the Enid News & Eagle. Go to his column blog at http://enid